Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow

Valentine cookies from the Edelweiss, February, 2006

We were very sorry to read in this morning's paper that our local bakery, the Edelweiss, has closed. The baker, Dietrich Paul, who owned the place together with his wife, died. He had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease last year.

When we moved to Northeast Baltimore we loved the way the neighborhood felt kind of old. There were shops that sharpened scissors and repaired vacuum cleaners. "What's next?" we joked, as we traveled the main drag, "a place that fixes VCR's?". There are numerous medical pharmacies and dialysis centers, too. And a real Italian deli that makes its own mozzarella and a German deli that makes its own schnitzel. We totally monopolized the City Paper's Best of Baltimore (note the Kevin Sherry illustration - he of I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean) this year.

The bakery felt like it had been there forever, and looked like it could have been in a mill town in Pennsylvania - homemade curtains, Bible verses, and decorative plates on the wall. We had an enormous cookout as a housewarming party, and I called the bakery to see if we could buy hamburger and hotdog buns from them. Mr. Paul said they didn't make them as a rule, but he could bake a few dozen for me, sure, no big deal. They were great - how often do you get compliments on the buns?

It felt both thrifty and indulgent to buy bread there, and an apple fritter the size (and texture, I'm guessing) of Stephen Hawking's brain, and a few cookies. I never managed to break a twenty at that place, even when I treated the kids to lunch.

Every Thursday afternoon a posse of truly ancient German-speaking people would show up for the sauerbraten special (pretty damn good sauerbraten) and stay to sing songs that I'd always suspect could be translated to, "We are the Germans, we're so great, all the rest of you will be our slaves sooner or later," but they were so damn merry about it, pausing to gasp out laughter or take a hit off the oxygen tank.

It turns out that Dietrich and his wife were no young pups themselves. According to the Sun article, when they bought the bakery 9 years ago, Mrs. Paul was 70... and I don't think that he was any younger than she. Pretty hard-core, to start a new business at an age when everyone else is settling down to watch a couple decades of "Murder, She Wrote".

But he was something of a hard-core guy, especially considering that he smelled like vanilla extract. I was buying a pound of cookies one day. He piled a double handful onto the scale, and as he pulled his hands away, the scale read one pound exactly. I said something banal like, "Looks like you have the touch." He gave me a speculative look for a second, as if deciding whether or not he should tell me the story, then he shrugged a little and said, "When I was in the merchant marine, we were in a bad storm on the North Sea," and I mean, right there, you know, you could finish that sentence any way you wanted to - you are one balls-ass baker, in my book. Turns out his scale went overboard in the storm and he had to guesstimate everything he cooked for the next 4 months, so he's been good at eyeballing weights ever since.

And you know, I can tell a man's inseam at ten paces because I used to sell menswear... but that's just not the same.

We're going to miss getting the kids' birthday cakes from Edelweiss. I'm going to miss those insane apple fritters. It was a real treat to be greeted by Miss Nancy, Mrs. Genevieve, and the good-natured, reserved Mr. Paul, and our neighborhood is poorer without him and without his bakery.